woman in messy room

How to Provide Freedom and Still Enforce Limits

We have a teenager in our house. The expression “It’s MY room” comes out often in daily conversation. To which I often reply, “It is MY house!” That being said, I want her to have a space that is hers, where she feels comfortable, creative, and calm. At the same time I need some form of conformity to a minimum standard. Here is how we balance the “my room” versus “my house” predicament allowing for freedom of expression with a few simple limits.

Figure Out Everyone’s Needs

Figuring out what everyone needs to be happy, calm, and balanced may be the hardest part of the whole process. It definitely was for me! I need things neat and organized to keep me calm. My daughter lives in chaos. I spent a good amount of time trying to force her to see things my way. Then her psychologist told me to “stop negotiating and close the door”. My immediate response was “excuse me”, because I must have heard something wrong. She explained how her brain processed what I saw as mass chaos very differently. Trying to wrangle her ADHD brain into alignment with my expectation was a losing battle. Why fight a battle I can’t win that only increases conflict between the two of us? Step one for us, close the door and take a step back.

Establishing Minimum Standards

Once I took my unlivable standards off the table, the teenager became more open to negotiations on minimum standards. Truly we need to keep the space free of bugs and rodents to start. So we agreed the trash needs to be taken out and the dishes returned to the kitchen in regular intervals. Next, we agreed dirty clothes need to be in the laundry basket; that is if you want momma to wash them. I am not going to guess what is clean and what is dirty. Finally there needs to be a safe path from the door to the bed. We need to be able to walk without injury even in the dark. I am not asking for the moon and the stars – just the basics.

One Final Agreement

Since our standards are so vastly different, I established one final agreement in regards to her bedroom. Once a quarter, I go in and clean things out. I can do it alone or she can help. Not once has she wanted to be involved, but the option is always open. I take this day to sort things into piles, figure out if we need more boxes or bins, and throw away broken things that are taking up unnecessary space. I also use it as a time to sort through clothes and shoes, removing items that are too small or covered in paint. (Artists are always covered in paint.) Once things are separated back into categories, the teenager will decide further if she wants to keep things or toss them. Often I find something that has been lost in plain sight for weeks, for which she is always eternally grateful.

Me vs Her

I crave order and planning. My stuff may be in piles, but they are neat, organized, and I can find what I need. The messier the house gets, the more my anxiety rises and the eventual overwhelm sets in. My daughter is not me. Requiring her to conform to what I need causes anxiety and overwhelm in her life. Are we not just supposed to tell our kids what to do? My answer is yes, but… We need to remember that everyone does not function in the same manner. Our brains do not crave the same things.

Balancing Freedom and Limits

My daughter deserves to have a space that feels comfortable and safe. She needs freedom to establish her own environment in a way that works for her mind. In having this freedom she will discover her own way of doing things. It may not look like mine, it doesn’t need to. The goal is for her to live on her own someday. I will not be there to micro manage every step; she will need to be able to maneuver through life without me. By setting limits, I help give her a baseline expectation, a place to start. Now I watch as she figures out her own way. The best part will be watching that way evolve over the course of time. Her room at 13 will likely not look the same as her room at 17.

Throw the Rules Out the Window

The Parenting Rule Book states your child conforms to your will. Or at least that is one interpretation. Conformity does not need to equal successful parenting. We do not all need to parent the same way. We do not even need to parent each child the same way. I will be forever grateful to the psychologist who told me to “close the bedroom door”. She invited me to look at the situation in a new light and find a solution unique to us.

Her chaos brings her calm. I added a few boundaries. We found a solution that works for now. The boundaries will probably change. The limits are not set in stone, they will evolve as we grow. At the end of the day we focus on what is most important, even if we do not totally agree on the details.


A few more posts you may enjoy:

Why I HATE Bedtime and How I Fixed It

Days in Isolation – Middle School Mania

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